REVIEW: Strolling Player by Gabriel Hershman, History Press ✭✭✭

Strolling Player - The Life And Career of Albert FinneyStrolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney.
The History Press.
Gabriel Hershman
3 Stars
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Written without the co-operation of Finney, this biography is written to pay tribute to his acting skills and career, as Hershman makes clear in his Introduction. He is writing as a fan, and much of the book is given over to deep analysis of each of Finney’s film roles, with many contributions from friends, colleagues and critics. What emerges is a portrait of a highly likeable man, a strolling player who turned away from the riches offered by Hollywood to pursue work he was interested in and an actor with a love of acting above all else.

Finney clearly didn’t want to be a conventional movie star or sex symbol of any kind, seeing much of  Hollywood as a factory that produces products rather than people. Fitting then that his standout performance as Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night Sunday Morning rages against the boredom of factory life. Written without Finney’s co-operation, the best that Hershman can do is take us through the major points of the actor’s life and career. This gives the book a workmanlike feel, it’s good but there are no startling new insights or revelations. Finney was ladies man, a survivor of that breed of ‘Angry Young Men’ of the Sixties, yet criticism of him is contained mainly in quotes from Peter Hall and Lindsay Anderson, who, after falling out with Finney, is acerbic in his bitter summing up of the actor’s career. It’s clear that Finney is a lovely man to work with, knowing the names of the crew as well as cast members, generous in his time and support of other and younger actors. Yet the glowing tributes become slightly wearing as the book goes on, ironically making Finney appear more two-dimensional than I suspect he is in real life.

Where the book is strong, however, is in its evaluation of Finney’s extraordinary career, and for an introduction to the work, it’s invaluable. The analysis of each performance is good, and the best thing about it is that it made me want to dig out my DVD’s and watch some of those classic performances again. For me, Saturday Night Sunday Morning, The Dresser and A Man of No Importance are Finney at his best.  The Finney ‘swagger’ is there- as masculine, angry, bored Seaton, as ‘Sir’ the fading actor stopping a train with the power of his voice alone, and as a gay virgin in 1963 Dublin- but he completely inhabits each role, and the films have barely dated. The joy of this book is that it will make you return to Finney, possibly one of the most under-rated, (and certainly under-awarded), actors of his generation.

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